Perfection in Silence
With a title like that I hope you all are expecting something about ninjas1. If ninja’s2 were not the first thing in your mind after reading “deadly silent” then you can stop reading. Actually this article is more about the stealth genre as whole and it just so happens that most stealth protagonists are modeled after ninjas3 (How many times can I use the word ninja4 in a paragraph?). I’m writing this on the heels of completing Dishonored, Arkane Studios excellently crafted stealth adventure. I feel a second coming of the stealth genre in mainstream gaming and not just because Thief is slinking back onto the scene…like a ninja5.
The original Thief series set a precedent for stealth based games that is rarely touched in recent days. It is to stealth what Demon Souls is to RPG’s, a pinnacle of difficulty not based on cheap gameplay mechanics but skill. Maybe I am biased because I literally grew up trying to beat the original Thief games, from The Dark Project when I was 10 to The Deadly Shadows when I was 16. I’m hoping the new Thief won’t be a let down. Here are a few things I think make a great stealth game work…
It wasn’t just the punishing difficulty that made Thief rise above but the dedication to making you rely on stealth instead of brute tactics. Games today seem to have taken us away from this concept by giving the player the option of stealth (which is appreciated) but also making the player a unstoppable killer if they find their sneaking abilities lacking. I’m looking at you Assassins Creed. Granted Ubisoft Montreal has done a lot to complicate life for the once overpowered assassin but when push comes to shove Altair, Ezio and Connor can take down the entire city watch in one fight.
I don’t like that option. If I could just kill everyone from the get go and simply lose some arbitrary points because of it, why bother sneaking about? I understand it’s mass appeal because stealth is hard and can sometimes be tedious but knowing in the back of my head nothing can take me down really takes away from even wanting to snoop around. Dishonored does a great job of reviving that feeling for me. There was a multitude of times I blundered my way into guards and was either quickly dispatched or forced to use all of the tools at my disposal to formulate a graceful retreat. I once again felt anxious as the Imperial’s finest walked passed, hoping my hastily chosen hiding spot, would be sufficient to fool them.
Also Dishonored offers the player incentive to not engage in combat and avoid killing people all together. Like most games now a days each mission is rated, which I find annoying, however the real reward is how the end of the game plays out. A merciful heart will give you one ending and the black heart of a killer will get you another. This is something gamers have to expect out of their games and the stealth genre should consider it heavily. I like knowing that I’m actually working towards something other than a B+ on my current level and it really makes the player want to act certain ways. I chose the stealth route and the non-lethal one at that and really enjoyed feeling like I was making this “whale-punk” world a better place. This is a style we also see in Dues Ex: Human Revolution, though it’s much harder to keep the blood off your hands in that game.
Having a multitude of ways to hide adds complexity to any good stealth game. I’m not just talking about multiple point’s of entry but multiple ways of being stealthy. Assassin’s Creed is famous for it’s implementation of hiding in plain sight, a great concept and one that works very well with the open world game model. The Hitman series also uses this method with its various disguises. Stealth isn’t always about being the creeper in a shadow and game developers would be smart to remember that.
The last point I wanted to touch on was the vast array of toys any good thief should have at their disposal. I think one of the best examples of this is the Batman Arkham series. Batman always has the tool for the job and it’s one of the main reasons he is so cool. The Arkham series really let plays experiment with the many gadgets of the dark knight and it added a huge level strategy to every encounter. Like any good game the player was exposed to the new piece of gear and then faced off against enemies who required you to utilize the new toy but after that initial exposure the opportunities only grew. I was a huge fan of swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle methodically planning my attack on a room full of the jokers goons and seeing how to most effectively use the tools I had in that seemingly bottomless utility belt. While we are talking about Batman, I’d like to point out how awesome the “fear” factor of your enemies was. This is something that also became important in Mark of the Ninja and it adds an interesting way to wage psychological war on your foes. Make a guard panic? He might accidentally shoot a buddy or take off running.
So that’s it for my take on some important components of a stealth game.
What do you believe makes a stealth game great? What’s your favorite stealth game and why? Let me know in the comments below!